Traffic passes a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 6, 2015.
Traffic passes a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) billboard at the Tun Razak Exchange development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 6, 2015. Reuters / Olivia Harris

In a U.S. court, former Goldman Sachs partner Tim Leissner has admitted to taking $60 million in kickbacks, lying to the bank about his corrupt deals, and twice forging divorce documents to take on new wives.

Despite his history of deceit, Leissner is the key witness prosecutors are asking jurors to believe in the trial of Roger Ng, a former colleague of Leissner's at Goldman who is charged with helping loot Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund during a scheme that lasted from 2009 to 2014.

Leissner in 2018 pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money and violate an anti-bribery law, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Ng, 49, pleaded not guilty to similar charges and is standing trial in Brooklyn federal court.

In more than a week of testimony, Leissner has described his high-flying lifestyle as the lucrative 1MDB deals made him a "star," and the steps he took to avoid getting caught.

Leissner, 52, said he hoped coming clean would "clear this chapter of my life."

"It's not the proudest time of my life, but at the time I wanted to make more money, even though I was well-paid," Leissner testified.

The charges stem from some $6.5 billion in bonds Goldman helped 1MDB sell in 2012 and 2013. Prosecutors say $4.5 billion of that was embezzled by officials, bankers and their associates, in one of the biggest scandals in Wall Street history.

Goldman in 2020 agreed to pay a $3 billion fine and have its Malaysia subsidiary plead guilty in U.S. court. The bank said at the time it did not adequately "scrutinize the representations of certain members of the deal team."

Leissner said he and Ng, Goldman's top banker for Malaysia, secretly liased with conspirators outside Goldman, and received kickbacks.

Ng's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, argues Leissner is falsely implicating Ng to lower his own sentence. Prosecutors say Leissner's assertions are backed by other evidence.

Leissner said he spent the kickbacks on a $15 million 170-foot yacht, apartments in London and New York, and an investment in Italian soccer team Inter Milan.

In 2013 he met Kimora Lee Simmons, an American model and ex-wife of music producer Russell Simmons. They set a wedding date before Leissner finalized a divorce with another woman, so he forged divorce documents - the second time he had pulled such a stunt, he said.

Through it all, Leissner said he privately worried about getting caught. While preparing the final 1MDB bond deal months ahead of Malaysia's 2013 presidential election, Leissner said he was concerned the opposition could win and investigate the deal.

The ruling party won, but Leissner said critical press coverage of 1MDB kept him on edge. In February 2016, FBI agents served him with a subpoena. Hoping for a green card to live in Los Angeles with his new family, he said he hired a lawyer to explore cooperating.

But he was arrested in June 2018. He said he pleaded guilty to lighten his sentence, aware it would dash his hopes of a green card. He and Lee Simmons are estranged, her lawyers said.

"I hope that I don't have to go to prison," Leissner testified.